State’s place in primary secure

  • The First in the Nation primary runs deep in New Hampshire. By Paul Steinhauser —Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 12/9/2018 10:00:05 PM

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner vows to continue protecting New Hampshire’s century-old status as the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

“I want to make sure our presidential primary remains where it has been,” Gardner said minutes after winning a contentious and narrow re-election victory over challenger Colin Van Ostern for a 22nd two-year term as the state’s top election official.

Gardner and his allies argued for a couple of weeks leading up to the Dec. 5 election that replacing the secretary of state, who’s known nationally as one of the chief guardians of the first-in-the-nation primary, with someone like Van Ostern, who they claimed could politicize the office, would jeopardize New Hampshire’s treasured position in the presidential primary calendar.

Van Ostern, who just two years ago was the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, vowed to act in a nonpartisan way. And he and his supporters made the case that protecting the primary is a job that is bigger than any one person.

Van Ostern pointed to New Hampshire’s unique 40-plus-year state law that gives the secretary of state the final authority to set the date of the primary no matter what the national Democratic and Republican parties might say.

While Gardner for decades has vigorously pushed back against states trying to encroach on New Hampshire’s primary status – most recently in the 2012 cycle when he threatened to move the date to December 2011 – the two major parties have increasingly become the final arbiters when it comes to the primary calendar.

“The parties have increased their influence,” said Steve Duprey, the longtime Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire who’s played a key role the past two decades in keeping the Granite State first in the GOP primary calendar.

His counterpart, veteran Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire Kathy Sullivan, agreed.

She added that “in the last couple of cycles it’s been pretty clear that Democrats are satisfied with having the order of the four early states before the window opens up for everybody else to go.”

That order is the Iowa caucus, the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucus and the South Carolina primary.

Duprey said that he’s made five arguments over the years to keep New Hampshire first.

“The first is we’ve been doing it for a very long time and we do it very well,” he said.

Other arguments included the state’s small size, which allows less well-known and well-funded candidates to compete with those with bigger names and more money; the ease at getting around the state; and the national press’s familiarity with New Hampshire.

But Duprey, who supported the secretary of state’s re-election, highlighted that “number five and very important” was Gardner’s record of holding smooth primaries and not having to worry “whether the secretary of state’s office in any way is tipping towards one side or another, or one candidate or another.”

When it comes to 2020, Duprey said “the GOP calendar is locked and loaded, and there won’t be any further changes.”

Sullivan, who sits on the important DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, said that a week ago the panel “took our final steps to approve the process with respect to the 2020 primary calendar.”

Iowa is scheduled to kick things off on Feb. 3, with New Hampshire holding its primary on Feb. 11. Nevada is scheduled to caucus on Feb. 22, with South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 29.

The first four states will quickly be followed by Super Tuesday on March 3, when some nine states are scheduled to hold contests. Included are large states like California and Texas, as well as North Carolina and Virginia, and the neighboring states of Massachusetts and Vermont.

With California allowing early voting and voting by mail, some of the Golden State’s more than 18 million voters may be casting ballots around the same time as New Hampshire’s primary.

Asked if New Hampshire’s primary status would be infringed upon by the early voting in California, Sullivan said that “none of the results (in California) will be announced until that first Tuesday in March.”

But Gardner’s keeping an eye on the situation.

“You really need to see what the process is,” he told the Monitor. “Are they going to count the early votes like they do in some states or are the early votes only going to be counted on the day of their primary? There are questions.”

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